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What is really wrong with Henry Stapp's view?



While Henry was in Paris explaining quantum theory to some neuroscientists, I had the task of explaining quantum theory to my sister and her husband, who are writers. I started out by talking about atomism and bottom-up causation and the fact that we have discovered that the laws of the substratum are incomplete and that there therefore must be a top-down effect coming from the large aggregates and the consciousness property of the large aggregates. It is presumably the latter that is outside the laws of the substratum and can therefore bring them to completeness. So, what is wrong with this view, which I am quite confident is a fair statement of the view of Henry Stapp?

First of all, the actual process by which consciousness brings the incomplete laws of the substratum to completeness is left unexplained. In Stapp's view it is really no more than the assertion: cogito ergo sum. Simply because consciousness is outside the law it can bring about the needed projection of the state onto a sub-state. Simply because this jump is something, it is assumed that it is the needed explanation of a conscious experience. But the real processes presumed by these assertions are left unexamined. In fact, James, Whitehead, and Bohm have gone a long way toward examining them. Henry Stapp started out on that path, decided it was intractable, and retreated to the safety of a physicalist view that would be more easily accepted but would be less true.

The philosopher David Chalmers questions whether consciousness is really outside the physical world at all. He points out that our experience is that consciousness exactly mimics the world or reflects it, which was also the view of Lenin, BTW. The new word for this is supervenience, which supposedly raises the argument to a new level of pseudo-sophistication. If that is so, then the whole quantum notion of physical world is called into question. What Chalmers is really challenging is the atomistic notion of a noumenal physical world that is fundamentally different than the one reflected in consciousness. The presumption of Chalmers would be that the atomistic world is just a kind of side show to the real world which consciousness reflects, or supervenes upon.

Then of course there is Sarfatti's competing Bohm theory, which also operates in the same physicalist arena as Stapp's view. It is true, as Ulrich Mohrhoff tried ineptly to point out, that Stapp somewhat questionably takes the Wave Function to be noumenal. Sarfatti's Bohm theory actually corrects that by making of the Wave Function a mental algorithm, as opposed to the physical noumenal substitute for the old concept of matter, which Stapp alleges that it is. The noumenal reality for Sarfatti, as for Bohm, is the so-called BOHM POINT, which Bohm and Sarfatti take to be the true noumenal quantum object. Stapp denies the existence of the BOHM POINT.

In a nutshell, what is wrong with all of this is that it is physicalist or near physicalist (Chalmers' view). The essence of quantum theory is that we can only investigate the noumenon to the degree that we can really stand apart from it. Stapp's view allows no such distance from the noumenon. Stapp's view requires that we identify with the noumenon, that we think of ourselves as physical, with just a little bit (namely consciousness or cogito) sticking out, rather inexplicably. Stapp will say that it is all experience, but really he has no theory of experience at all apart from the physical world he takes as primary. The phenomenologists (Descartes, Husserl, etc.) really did investigate the nature of pure experience, starting with the bracketing or exclusion from consideration of the entire psycho-physical or mental and material reality, but Stapp does not avail himself of their findings.

The real Copenhagen view of Bohr, Pauli, and Heisenberg (and Bohm, BTW) is much different than this. It takes advantage of the classical/quantum dichotomy to posit our metaphysical distance from the noumenon. We are in fact seven worlds removed from the physical world of the quantum noumenon in nature. It is this type of view that opens up the field of discourse and allows us to understand the processes involved in the superficial apparency that Stapp presents as quantum theory.

"Positivism makes the mistake of refusing to see the overall connection, and of wanting to deliberately keep this in the dark. At any rate it does not encourage anyone to reflect on this matter." (Werner Heisenberg, "Der Teil und das Ganze", p. 294)

Says Armin Hermann on page 108 of his book "Werner Heisenberg, 1901-1976":

"Positivism was Heisenberg's greatest philosophical opponent."

My conclusion is that quantum theory has been taken over by its opponents, namely the positivists. What now presents itself as quantum theory is not quantum theory at all, but its opposite, as transformed by its opponents. Henry Stapp's views are unfortunately consistent with this tendency. On the other hand, the real message of quantum theory would by no means be received by the present intelligentsia, so it is understandable why Henry has been tempted to alter the message in the way that he has.

Further quotes from "Physics and Beyond" (the English version of "Der Teil und das Ganze"), by Werner Heisenberg:

Bohr, p. 205: "Some time ago there was a meeting of philosophers, most of them positivists, here in Copenhagen, during which members of the Vienna Circle played a prominent part. I was asked to address them on the interpretation of quantum theory. After my lecture, no one raised any objections or asked any embarrassing questions, but I must say this very fact proved a terrible disappointment to me. For those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it. Probably I spoke so badly that no one knew what I was talking about."

Pauli, p. 206: "The fault need not necessarily have been yours. It is part and parcel of the positivist creed that facts must be taken for granted, sight unseen, so to speak. As far as I remember, Wittgenstein says: 'The world is everything that is the case.' 'The world is the totality of facts, not of things.' Now if you start from that premise, you are bound to welcome any theory representative of the 'case.' The positivists have gathered that quantum mechanics describes atomic phenomena correctly, and so they have no cause for complaint. What else we have had to add - complementarity, interference of probabilities, uncertainty relations, separation of subject and object, etc. - strikes them as just so many embellishments, mere relapses into prescientific thought, bits of idle chatter that do not have to be taken seriously. Perhaps this attitude is logically defensible, but, if it is, I for one can no longer tell what we mean when we say we have understood nature."

Heisenberg, p. 208: "Positivist insistence on conceptual clarity is, of course, something I fully endorse, but their prohibition of any discussion of the wider issues, simply because we lack clear-cut enough concepts in this realm, does not seem very useful to me - this same ban would prevent our understanding of quantum theory."

Bohr, p. 209: "This sort of restriction on language doesn't seem very useful to me either. You all know Schiller's poem, 'The Sentences of Confucius,' which contains these memorable lines: 'The full mind is alone the clear, and truth dwells in the deeps.' The full mind, in our case, is not only an abundance of experience but an abundance of concepts by means of which we can speak about our problems and about phenomena in general. Only by using a whole variety of concepts when discussing the strange relationship between the formal laws of quantum theory and the observed phenomena, by lighting this relationship up from all sides and bringing out its apparent contradictions, can we hope to effect that change in our thought processes which is a *sine qua non* of any true understanding of quantum theory."

Heisenberg, p. 213: "The positivists have a simple solution: the world must be divided into that which we can say clearly and the rest, which we had better pass over in silence. But can anyone conceive of a more pointless philosophy, seeing that what we can say clearly amounts to next to nothing? If we omitted all that is unclear, we would probably be left with completely uninteresting and trivial tautologies."

Heisenberg, p. 216: "Unfortunately, modern positivism mistakenly shuts its eyes to the wider reality, wants to keep it deliberately in the dark. I may be exaggerating, but, at the very best, positivism does not encourage people to reflect on this subject."

There is a formal similarity between positivism, as here defined by Heisenberg, and phenomenology, insofar as phenomenology attempts to suspend all consideration of the external noumenal reality, which is essentially unknowable. However, there the similarity ends. In fact, the problem with positivism is that it suspends the higher possibilities, which phenomenology discovers. In that very real sense, they are opposites.

However, if the phenomenological reduction were taken to be a mere intellectual exercise, then there would be more than a superficial similarity, and phenomenology would be wrong for the same reason that positivism is wrong. The phenomenology I espouse says that the phenomenological reduction is a peak experience of the absolute or pure consciousness and the noumenal transcendental ego associated therewith. It is an experience of the quantum implicate order, which is the true Mind of the Observer. Since what is discovered contains all that can unfold as the explicate order, nothing is lost in the phenomenological reduction - rather, all is included and comprehended in its wholeness.

I maintain that the founders of quantum theory were, in essence, phenomenologists. I do not know if they in fact had an encounter with Husserl's phenomenology comparable to the one they had with positivism. It would have been most interesting. If not, the synthesis is ours to make. It is the key to the future.

For one moment your mind was open to an infinite number of possibilities. The exploration that awaits you is ... charting the unknown possibilities of existence. - Q on Star Trek



Peter Joseph Mutnick 1949 - 2000


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